68

About 30,000 Americans die every year from gun-related deaths (a number likely to exceed those dying from automobile-related accidents very soon if trends continue). About 1 in 3 of those are homicides and the remainder suicides. Together this totals more than 300,000 since the world Trade Centre attacks.

A recent editorial in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine claimed that the NRA had used its legislative clout to block public funding for research to find out what measures might reduce the death rate. In their words (but my highlights):

Today, with almost no funding for firearm violence research, there are almost no researchers. Counting all academic disciplines together, no more than a dozen active, experienced investigators in the United States have focused their careers primarily on firearm violence. Only 2 are physicians. Only 1 has evaluated the effectiveness of an assault weapons ban.

Why did this happen? In the early 1990s, scientists were producing evidence that might have been used to reform the nation’s firearm policies. To those whose interests were threatened by such reforms, it made perfect sense to choke off the production of the evidence. This effort was led by Congressman Jay Dickey, self-described “point person for the NRA.” It succeeded. When rates of firearm violence were at historic highs and appeared to be increasing, the government abandoned its commitment to understanding the problem and devising evidence-based solutions.

Given the poverty of good statistics on the topic and the relevance of such statistics for policy (see the difficulty of finding good statistics in this question: Is gun control effective? ) , this seems strange. But is it true? Did the NRA successfully lobby to block research funding related to gun control and gun violence?

  • 1
    It might, in this context, be helpful to distinguish between "research" and "manipulation of statistics to further a political agenda". – jamesqf Apr 15 '16 at 17:49
  • There appears to be a misprint in the question, which asks if "the NRA had used its legislative clout to block any public funding for such research", but the original source doesn't say that, it only states that most public funding was blocked. Anyone object if I edit? – DJClayworth Mar 22 '18 at 0:58
  • @DJClayworth no problem. – matt_black Mar 22 '18 at 1:03
  • So,.what, now the question is asking "Has the NRA had any influence at all on the level of funding for research regarding gun safety"? This edit makes the question vague, ambiguous, and trivial. – Acccumulation Mar 22 '18 at 2:14
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    @Evargalo I recall a statistic of about 500 deaths per year that the police listed as accidental (guns going off while cleaning, being dropped, etc.). So around 2%. It's a matter of opinion whether that is negligible. – Oscar Bravo Jun 1 '18 at 9:30
89

Yes they did.

The Tiahrt amendment prevents firearms data from being released to anyone other than law enforcement - including gun ownership statistics and many gun-related crime statistics. This effectively prevents most academic research into gun ownership, gun crime, gun violence and even some gun accidents, by denying researchers access to the necessary raw data. The ban applies to all research, public and private, except law enforcement (who are ill-equipped or not mandated to carry out academic research). The amendment was promoted heavily by the NRA who made large campaign contributions specifically to legislators who supported the ban. They also arranged for the passage of the Dickey Amendment which prevents the Centre for Disease Control spending any money at all on research "that might advocate or promote gun control" (the CDC is tasked with research into other non-disease causes of death and injury such as traffic and domestic accident). The restriction was later extended to other publicly funded bodies. The definition of what might "advocate or promote gun control" was left deliberately vague, and given the possibility of criminal prosecution if your research was found to do so, virtually everyone abandoned the area of research. A small amount of research has continued despite the restrictions.

References:

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    Who is "they"? The NRA didn't block research, they just lobbied for the amendment. – Brian Jul 2 '14 at 19:16
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    @MarkAmery from reading other articles, it seems that the Dickey Amendment's wording only prevents outright advocacy, but that the practical effect has been enough of a chilling effect to prevent research altogether, as researchers don't want to get into the field only to discover that they have no way of getting funding (for example). – Ben Barden Mar 16 '18 at 19:40
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    The CDC carried out extensive research into gun injuries and prevention before the Tiahrt amendment, but it all stopped afterwards. Check the links in the answer. – DJClayworth Mar 17 '18 at 2:10
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    @Acccumulation I did edit the answer to make it slightly clearer. But if you read the links they are absolutely clear. The Tiahrt amendment prevents firearms data from being released to anybody who is not law enforcement. Private, public, whatever. They cannot get access to the raw data. – DJClayworth Mar 19 '18 at 15:59
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    Yes, any of those where x, y and z are small. But seriously, if you know the values of x, y or z then write an answer saying "The amount of research wasn't affected because it was x1 before and it was x2 after, and that isn't much difference". Then we can look at the answer and decide if it's a good one. – DJClayworth Mar 23 '18 at 13:25
23

The specific legislation you're interested is the Tiahrt Amendment. It is quite contentious because it was designed to block a lot of data collected by the ATF from being used academically. The motivation behind this is that past releases of such information were used for political purposes rather than objective academic or scientific pursuits.

The worry from groups who support the right to keep and bear arms is that showing "firearms correlate to X" would lead to further gun control legislation. Knowing something scientifically is good, using that knowledge to justify political goals is where it gets contentious.

The original question may help highlight these concerns. A journal about internal medicine has a clear interest in knowing more about firearm injuries and how to treat. Should a group of medical experts be advising for gun control or solely focused on the clinical treatment and care of firearm injuries?

  • 9
    I mean the question is quite simple and professes of a "yes" or "no" answer, (a) the amendment that you listed is "contentious", (b) the amendment blocks the release of public data, (c) the NRA supports it, and presumably because of those reasons you've given. So yes, "The NRA did block research into statistics related to gun control, even if they claim to have done so for different reasons, namely to stop lawsuits against gun manufacturers." – Evan Carroll Mar 31 '13 at 23:35
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    I think the pointer to the Tihart Amendment is an excellent reference. However, you go on to explain the motivation of the Tihart Amendment and the worries of (unnamed) groups, without any references to support them. Please add references. – Oddthinking Apr 1 '13 at 1:00
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    I think it is also worth making the distinction that the NRA has no authority to pass laws. It is the Congress that blocked the research. This answer doesn't demonstrate that Congress was influenced by the NRA, which is required to answer the question in the title. – Oddthinking Apr 1 '13 at 1:02
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    Wow, that's a whole load of commentary on an answer that should read "Yes they did". – DJClayworth Apr 1 '13 at 13:11
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    @DJClayworth and no doubt so were their opponents... But lobbyists aren't lawmakers and stopping government funding doesn't "block research", it just means people have to find some other way to get money, so it was not the NRA "blocking research" at all, just them presenting their point (which is valid, causation vs. correlation, remember that one?) and getting heard. – jwenting Apr 2 '13 at 8:37
9

Simple answer - Yes , NRA helped in blocking research associated with gun violence and statistics associated with it , by a major piece of legislation called as "Dickey Amendment" which was passed in the year 1996 and was prominently lobbied by NRA , which stopped CDC from spending money into research associated with gun violence . The bill is named after co-sponsor of the bill - Jay Dickey , a Republican congressman from Arkansas. According to the Dickey amendment-

None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.

Link: Why So Few Scientists Are Studying the Causes of Gun Violence (Smithsonian.com, 13 Jul 2015)

But NRA went even a step further , by passing legislation to stop Bureau of Arms , Tobacco and Firearms to keep all the firearms and other records associated with it in form of electronic database (so even by mistake government cannot release any kind of statistics).

Links: How the N.R.A. Keeps Federal Gun Regulators in Check (NY Times, 22 Feb 2018)
NRA TV: inside the channel activists are urging Apple and Amazon to axe (The Guardian, 1 Mar 2018)

This episode of the last week tonight from John Oliver is a must see when it comes to NRA - https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_ECYMvjU52E

3

To claim that no gun research is allowed with public money is imprecise at best, and a lie at worst. No advocacy of gun control is allowed with federal money. The Dickey Amendment states: "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." So, this applies to: 1. the CDC 2. spending money for injury prevention 3. for advocating gun control.

Not everything gun related is off-limits for federal spending; otherwise how would the FBI know that "Firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies, and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults"? State governments are free to spend their money on gun research: "California's response to the federal funding blockade was a budget rider last year establishing the Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis and funding it with a five-year grant of $5 million." And your quote from JAMA (who, by the way, has been at the forefront at politicizing the gun issue and therefore instigating NRA action) goes beyond talking about federal or even state funding, and claims there is a lack of funding at all.

From the LA Times article:

The vacuum in federally funded gun violence research dates to 1996, when Congress passed a measure by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), a cat’s-paw of the National Rifle Assn., forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend any funds “to advocate or promote gun control.”

A succession of pusillanimous CDC directors decided that the safest course bureaucratically was simply to spend nothing at all on gun violence research — even when they were specifically ordered to reenter the field by President Obama, following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012.

So the NRA did help pass legislation that has created a hostile environment for spending money on gun research, and this legislation has influenced bureacrats in deciding to limit research, but it did not ban reaserch.

Several other answers have mentioned the Tiahrt Amendment. @DJClayworth phrases it as "prevents firearms data from being released to anyone other than law enforcement - including gun ownership statistics and many gun-related crime statistics." However, the wikipedia page on it says that it "prohibits the National Tracing Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation." According to https://www.atf.gov/firearms/national-tracing-center "Firearms tracing is the systematic tracking of the movement of a firearms recovered by law enforcement officials from its first sale by the manufacturer or importer through the distribution chain (wholesaler/retailer) to the first retail purchaser. Comprehensive firearms tracing is the routine tracing of every crime gun recovered within a geographic area or specific law enforcement jurisdiction." That doesn't sound to me like "gun-related crime statistics", except in the broadest sense. That sounds to me like gun dealers are required to register with the ATF, and the ATF is prohibited from sharing the information they provide with researchers. This is data that people have been required by law to provide to the ATF, and there are valid privacy concerns. This is not public information that's being withheld. The DMV keeps track of who owns what car; should that be freely available to researchers?

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    You are trying to hide behind an irrelevant technicality. Threatening to prosecute researchers who are found to have "promoted gun control" without defining what that means is undoubtedly intended to prevent any research. It's the same as if someone says "if you go into that room I might kill you". Technically it isn't a ban on entering the room, but the reality is nobody will go in. – DJClayworth Mar 17 '18 at 2:17
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    One key feature of research is that you don't always know the result you will get. So if the CDC did research that concluded that restrictions on guns were an effective way to limit the harms from guns would that count as advocacy? It looks to me as though the law limits any research that might possibly result in that outcome. – matt_black Mar 20 '18 at 15:08
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    @Acccumulation The technicality is that you are saying there is no "ban" because a small amount of research is still allowed despite the severe obstacles imposed. (Incidentally, you are the person talking about a "ban" the question is about "blocking" research, which certainly happened. I'm sorry you find my tone uncivil. Others seem to find it OK, based on the upvotes. And if you don't think that the purpose of the NRA is to block all research, then you are clearly in a minority. – DJClayworth Mar 20 '18 at 15:18
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    @Acccumulation But if I publicise the research (say by writing for a newspaper) that says guns control works is that advocacy? What if publishing the result of the research in the scientific literature counts as "publicising", is that advocacy? Scientific results are not neutral. – matt_black Mar 20 '18 at 15:21
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    @Acccumulation You may think that there is "Advocacy" only when someone takes a position. But the NRA would disagree with you. The trigger for these amendments was when "agency-funded research had revealed that residents of homes with guns had a higher likelihood of violent death in the home.". That's just publishing simple facts. But it's exactly that kind of research that the NRA sought to block. – DJClayworth Mar 20 '18 at 15:23
-4

No, they didn't

The NRA is a civil rights organization, and isn't capable of blocking federal research funding related to gun violence and gun control. That is the job of Congress.

Congress passed the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill, which contains the following language:

none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control

This amendment was added by U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR) and was approved by 104th Congress. The American Psychology Association, that was against the Dickey Amendment admits:

this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year —and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury.

From the CDC themselves, they note the Dickey Amendment does not block research/funding related to gun control/gun violence.

AR-13: Prohibition on Use of CDC Funds for Certain Gun Control Activities The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act specifies that: "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

Anti-Lobbying Act requirements prohibit lobbying Congress with appropriated Federal monies. Specifically, this Act prohibits the use of Federal funds for direct or indirect communications intended or designed to influence a member of Congress with regard to specific Federal legislation. This prohibition includes the funding and assistance of public grassroots campaigns intended or designed to influence members of Congress with regard to specific legislation or appropriation by Congress.

In addition to the restrictions in the Anti-Lobbying Act, CDC interprets the language in the CDC's Appropriations Act to mean that CDC's funds may not be spent on political action or other activities designed to affect the passage of specific Federal, State, or local legislation intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.

  • 9
    The NRA became concerned when a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article, “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home,” funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide (similar to how unmarried mothers put themselves and kids at greater risk – user1873 Jul 3 '14 at 6:50
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    Perhaps it isn't obvious, but I never assumed the NRA had legislative powers. The intent of the question, which should be clear from the context, was to ask if NRA lobbying and action was instrumental in influencing congress to pass such laws. – matt_black Jul 5 '14 at 11:01
  • 1
    @Matt_black, then the question should be reworded. From the context of the quote of the claim, it appears that Jay Dicky was "successfully at blocking research related to gun violence, not the NRA." Additionally, the American Psychology Association that was originally against the Dicky amendment wrote, "language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence." Even the opponents admit that the "NRA" didn't succeed. – user1873 Jul 5 '14 at 14:21
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    @user1873 There's a difference between increasing/reducing a budget and removing it entirely in one go... – Basic Sep 3 '14 at 12:22
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    The Dickey Amendment cut funding. But the Tiahrt Amendment made it illegal for the CDC to research gun deaths. – DJClayworth Oct 15 '15 at 19:26
-5

You give the National Rifle Association too much credit.

For the rest of the story, please see The History of Public Health Gun Control, a series in three parts, and the followup DRGO's 1996 Congressional Testimony: Defunding Gun Control Politics at the CDC which provides the actual transcript. They're published by Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Summary:

  1. The National Rifle Association informed the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee in 1996 about the CDC’s misuse of authority and federal funds which were based on bad science through a panel of experts.

    The radical deviation of public health research on guns from mainstream criminology research attracted the attention of the National Rifle Association, a citizen-based group of American gun owners. These observers were rightfully concerned not only about the misuse of science to advance a political agenda of gun control, but also about the spending of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to do it. The NRA asked Congress to address the problem. In March 1996 I was one of three medical doctors and a criminologist who testified before the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee. We informed the committee of the CDC’s misuse of its authority and of federal funds to advance a plainly political agenda of gun control based on bad science.

  2. The National Rifle Association spends millions of dollars and many hours of volunteers’ time on education to public about firearm safety and legal use.

    Running through most of these articles is a common thread that because of Congress’s mandate that federal tax money not be used to fund gun control advocacy, there is a shortage of research on ways to reduce “gun violence.” They routinely demonize the National Rifle Association, accusing them of suppressing research that would help us find a solution to misuse of firearms. Former CDC official Dr. Mark Rosenberg even accused the NRA in a supposedly straight news piece of “terrorizing the CDC and the research community.” These biased journalists ignore the fact that the NRA spends millions of dollars and many hours of volunteers’ time in educating the public about firearm safety and legal use.

  • 3
    Please quote what they say and summarise it. Asking us to read thousands of words just to find out what your argument is is too much. – Oddthinking Apr 14 '16 at 15:20
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    I expect intellectual dishonesty from NRA proponents, and I'm not disappointed. Your second point is like saying that the tobacco industry's really made of good guys because they tell people how to safely smoke cigarettes so they don't need the evil nasty government telling them what to sell. – Shadur Mar 16 '18 at 15:08
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    But of course I'm sure an entity with a noble name like the Second Amendment Foundation could not possibly be biased in favour of the NRA in any way, but instead exhibit only the most rigorous standards of neutrality and objectivity. – Shadur Mar 16 '18 at 15:10
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    #1 sounds like a scientist who didn't think the CDC should be spending money on doing any gun-related research. #2 seems to be saying that because the NRA spends money on gun education, that means they support research on reducing gun violence. Both sound lame. – Hannover Fist Mar 16 '18 at 15:11
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    "The National Rifle Association informed the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee in 1996 about the CDC’s misuse of authority and federal funds which were based on bad science". Because obviously the NRA is better suited to judge what is good science than the CDC. Down vote. – DJClayworth Mar 17 '18 at 2:21

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